A CONCERT ODYSSEY

When love comes to town

By Abid Hussain

Those who have attended Irish super-band U2’s concerts often claim that each concert is one of the greatest, life changing moment they have experienced.

For someone who has been following the band for the last 15 years, upon finding last September that U2 will be performing as near as Istanbul, Turkey, I just knew that this was my chance to finally experience the rapture that is U2 live. I too had to find out whether attending a U2 concert can be considered as one of my life’s greatest moment or not.

A friend helped me secure my ticket and lo and behold, I landed a couple of days before the U2 show in Istanbul. The concert was slated to take place at the Ataturk Olympic Stadium, Istanbul, on September 6th, 2010.

The night before the concert, while strolling across the city centre at Taksim Square, I ran into a lot of U2 fans who had come from different countries to attend the U2 show. There were people from Bulgaria, Germany, South Africa, Italy and many other countries, who all gathered at different bars and restaurants, singing U2 songs and anticipating what was thought as one of the major concert of the U2 360° tour.

Wandering around I had the most jaw dropping of experiences: I managed to catch The Edge (Guitars) and Larry Mullen Junior (Drums) out on the fashionable Istiklal Street, having dinner with their entourage of friends. I could not muster up the courage to go up and ask for an autograph or picture, but the close proximity with members of the band got me buzzing for the next day,

Political connection

The day dawned after a sleepless night. The excitement across the city was palpable. This was U2’s first ever concert in Turkey. The band had previously expressed the desire to perform here during the Popmart tour but due to political reasons, the plan fell apart. This show was already labeled among fan communities as one to look out for, due to the fact that U2 have always been a staunch supporter of political freedom and is often outspoken advocate for human rights. U2 have close association with Turkey in past as they had acknowledged Fehmi Tosun, an ethnic Kurd who was taken into custody back in 1995 and never seen again, on their POP album. Upon arriving in Istanbul, the band took out time to meet with Tosun’s wife as well. However, along with that, Bono also met with the Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, whose conservative policies are protested against by the progressive sections of the country, this in itself caused a bit of controversy as U2 was seen by some as playing both sides.

Beautiful day

Typically, despite my excitement, I was late to get the shuttle to the Stadium. I was already apprehensive if I would be able to get a good seat.

The shuttle took over an hour to reach the venue which was almost 40kms away from the city centre and by the time I reached there I began smiling as it seemed that there weren’t a lot of people outside. However, once i moved towards the stadium, the smile soon disappeared from my face as I could see more than 600 people standing before me in the queue. After getting the ticket verified and stamped with number 848 on my wrist, I finally made my way through into one of the queue boxes outside stadium.

A U2 concert is a model of organization and efficiency. With expected crowds of more than 50,000, the organisers along with U2 team arranged for queue boxes which would hold 30 people inside them and separated those boxes with dividers ensuring there was no pushing or shoving. It is here one can truly understand the camaraderie between U2 fans. People from different nationalities all gather together for one sole purpose and that is to attend the greatest band on earth and rejoice. It is from this vantage point, where the GA ticket holders also get to hear the soundcheck performances which throw up a lot of surprises too.

I was lucky enough to be together with a group of Turks, who made me immediately feel at home with their friendly nature. In fact, upon finding out that I was from Pakistan, they also sang an impromptu version of Jeevay Jeevay Pakistan, a most remarkable memory to last a lifetime.

It was here when I got my first jolt of surprise when I heard the band perform Mercy during sound check, an almost mythical song which has sort of created a cult following among the diehard U2 fans as it has never been performed on stage or released as a single. Soon, I was given the second shock as U2 decided to sound check one of their most underrated gem from the Joshua Tree album, Mothers of the Disappeared.

By this time, the crowds in the queues were going absolutely berserk as the excitement for the show to begin was growing and there was this sense of urgency. Soon, however, we were granted our wish and the doors were opened and there was a mad rush to enter the stadium.

Let me in the sound

The moment I crossed the security check and entered the stadium, I was awestruck. It seemed like a moment of truth, a moment of surrender, for before me was standing the magnificent Claw. The 360° tour is all about the claw, an inter-galactic spaceship like stage-object which seems to have descended from the heavens to light up the sky. It was an absolute sight to behold and I for one, took my sweet time to take in the grandiosity of the structure.

As I was told by my Turk friends just to follow them, lo and behold, here I ran the length of entire field only to find myself inside the inner circle, unarguably the best seats in the house. From here, I could see the entire stage, be at a touching distance from the band, take the best photos and perhaps, achieve nirvana.

Open your eyes

Just as the doors to the stadium opened up, the heavens did too. It started raining just at the opening band, Snow Patrol came on as if to welcome them. Ataturk Stadium can hold more than 70,000 people and though it was obvious that it was not a sold-out show, those 55,000 present at the venue made sure they were loud enough and excited enough to send a shiver up anybody’s spine. And all of these 55,000 gave a rousing welcome to Snow Patrol, who opened the show in what was by now driving rain.

A fabulous band in their own right, Snow Patrol proceeded to deliver some fantastic songs and warmed up the crowd by performing numbers such as Chasing Cars, Run, You`re All That I Have. With Gary Lightbody dressed in Turkey’s national colors, the highlight of their setlist was when they dedicated Chasing Cars to the U2 road crew who came on stage to sing the song with the band.

This show was Snow Patrol’s last one with the U2 on the 360° tour and as they bid adieu, the energy levels among the audience suddenly shot up a few notches, anticipating the appearance of the men from Dublin.

Get on your boots!

Pretty soon, the wish came true as the intro for U2 began playing on the PA system, and all eyes rose on the giant screen on claw, to see where the band would enter from. This was definitely one of those moments which cannot be encapsulated in words, for somebody who had an opportunity to see his music heroes live, the sheer level of excitement was way beyond anything felt before. As the opening chords of their new song, Return of the Stingray Guitar, began playing, a surge of electricity crossed the field and the ecstatic screams of the crowd literally brought the roof down.

From here onwards, U2 dove into their thirty-year old repertoire of songs and delivered classics after classics, which left the entire stadium clamouring for more. It was a combination of old and new, as the band compiled a set list which would consist some of their decades old greatest hit such as New Years Day, Pride (In the name of love), Sunday Bloody Sunday to the modern classics such as Until the End of the World, Mysterious Ways and Beautiful Day. The playlist also consisted of the modern U2 hits, such as the fabulous Vertigo as well as Elevation and Walk On.

Oh you look so, beautiful tonight!

Like every U2 concert, this one too had its moment of greatness, which made this concert particularly stand out among the rest. The first of those unique moments arrived when while performing In A Little While, the audience witnessed the luckiest girl in entire Istanbul, who was lifted on the stage, and proceeded to dance with Bono.

Another highlight of the show, particularly for those inside the circle, was whenever any of the band-members would walk on the bridge constructed on the main stage to connect with the outer-circle, the bridge itself would rotate and move across the audience. Every time Bono and the boys would walk on them, there would be a loud roar emanating from the audience.

Because of the earlier rain, the band was forced to perform the songs at a relatively quicker pace to rush through them. Despite that, it was at the middle section of the show when it truly elevated beyond the vast boundaries of the Ataturk Stadium.

It all started at the beginning of the City of Blinding Lights, with the cylindrical screen expanding to take the shape of a larger cone, emitting dazzling array of lights, taking breath away of those present at the venue. From there onwards, the show just notched an unprecedented level and the climaxed when U2 brought out their rare gem, Mothers of the Disappeared (MOTD).

This song, the last one from the epic album the Joshua Tree circa 1987, has been written for the families from Argentina and El Salvador who lost their children, never to see them again. On a personal note, I thought this was a most pertinent song for a lot of people in Pakistan as well who lost their loved ones but are yet to see them back home. U2 dedicated this song to Fehmi Tosun, and brought on stage one of the greatest Turkish artist, a man of many talents, Omer Zulfu Livaneli, who accompanied Bono in singing MOTD. As Zulfu’s deep, baritone voice rang across the venue, the crowd’s reaction was mesmerising to say the least.

Zulfu soon took over from Bono and only for the second time in U2’s touring history, another artist besides the band went on to perform his own song. Singing his famous folk tune, Yiğidim Aslanım Burda Yatıyor (Here I am a Brave Sleeping Lion), it was a sight to behold when literally every single one present at the venue sang along with the 64-year old singer.

Walk On…

This magical performance was followed by the encores, where Bono also spoke about his visit to the Turkey, about the reasons of visiting the Turkish PM (amidst loud boos I may add) and ending with passionate plea to embrace the future by holding on to past, generating resounding appreciation by the audience.

Thus began the last leg of the concert with the stable anthems of the U2 discography, a glittering collection of gems such as One, Where the Streets and With or Without You, at which the entire stadium was bathed in shimmering lights as people held aloft their cell phone and created this dazzling sea of small blue dots and swayed in trance.

The concert was finally brought to an end by perhaps the most epic song, Moment of Surrender, from U2’s latest album. As the band walked down hand in hand, the audience in a most befitting manner applauded them and sang along to bring down curtains to what was possibly one of the greatest nights the historical city of Istanbul had ever witnessed.

As for me, the joy I experienced was such that cannot be confined in words or pictures. It was truly the best night of my life with memories to last forever.

Original URL: Published in Instep, The News on Sunday, 19th September 2010

Advertisements